Trust Your Gut: Speech Delays in Toddlers

I remember the feelings of being a new mom. Mixed with the excitement of having a beautiful child was fear: fear of not doing the right thing at every moment for this new life I’d been entrusted with.

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That fear led me to constantly look to outside sources for help and support. My nightstand drawers overflowed with parenting books on feeding, sleep training, and more. I joined online forums and playgroups and interacted with moms who had babies of similar age. I registered for the newsletter “Your Baby’s Milestones” and carefully tracked my child’s progress against each one.

Of course, I also peppered my pediatrician at each doctor visit with a long list of questions and concerns. He always allayed my fears and reassured me that my son was just fine.

Until he wasn’t.

When my son was 15 months old, I began to notice that his behavior and development didn’t seem to be in line with the other kids in our playgroup. They were all beginning to talk and chatter. He wasn’t saying a single word. They would play quietly or turn the pages of a picture book for a few minutes at a time. He couldn’t sit for more than 4 or 5 seconds. He would have hour-long inexplicable screaming and crying fits that exhausted us both.

I went back to my outside sources and they all talked about how kids’ development varies widely and to give things time.

At my son’s 15-month doctor visit, the pediatrician echoed what the books and online forums were saying. “He’s only 15 months old, don’t worry,” he said.

But I had a nagging feeling. I WAS worried.

When we returned to the doctor for our 18-month visit, my concerns had grown. My friends’ kids had language that was exploding by the day, and the only thing exploding in our house was my son’s frustration. He couldn’t speak, and his crying fits were getting longer and longer.

I told the pediatrician that I really felt there was something wrong. He was reluctant to give my concerns any weight. I kept pushing, because that nagging feeling was growing.

“Boys are like cavemen until they’re about three,” he said. “But if it will make you feel better, I can give you a referral for a speech evaluation.”

“Thank you. It WILL make me feel better,” I said.

Two weeks later, my son’s speech evaluation revealed a severe language delay, as well as the possibility of sensory integration issues. The evaluators were concerned that he might be autistic.

Through the state’s 0-3 program, we received a wealth of early intervention services, including speech and occupational therapy. Over the next 18 months, my son went from no language whatsoever to being near age-level for speech. His language continued to blossom and his sensory needs were addressed when we enrolled him in developmental preschool. He mainstreamed into traditional kindergarten with no outstanding issues.

My son is now a fourth grader working above grade level in all subjects.

I’ll never know where my son would be today if I had ignored my own intuition and waited until he was three to have him evaluated. But what I learned is that being the best advocate for your child takes a combination of both sound medical advice and a healthy dose of going with your gut.

Have you ever disagreed with your pediatrician’s advice? Tell us about it below.